SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

SAINT JOHN PAUL II’S 1994 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO CHILDREN

I leave tomorrow for the States where I’ll spend my Christmas vacation in both Milwaukee and Chicago with family and some close friends. For the brief period I will be gone, I’d like to leave you with a very special gift in place of my regular daily column – Pope St. John Paul’s 1994 Christmas Message to Children. If you are a child – or a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle and have small children near you – this is for you! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

It is fairly long so you might want to read this to children over a period of days, perhaps during the 12 Days of Christmas”  Savor it gently!

JESUS IS BORN!!!

In a few days we shall celebrate Christmas, the holy day that is so full of meaning for all children in every family.

This year it will be even more so, because this is the Year of the Family. Before the Year of the Family ends, I want to write to you, the children of the whole world, and to share with you in the joy of this happy time of year.

Christmas is the feast day of a Child, of a newborn Baby. So it is your feast day too! You wait patiently for it and get ready for it with joy, counting the days and even the hours to the holy night of Bethlehem.

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I can almost see you: you are setting up the crib at home, in the parish, in every corner of the world, recreating the surroundings and the atmosphere in which the Saviour was born. Yes, it is true!

At Christmas time, the stable and the manger take centre place in the Church; and everyone hurries to go there, to make a spiritual pilgrimage, like the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

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Later, it will be the Magi arriving from the distant East, following the star, to the place where the Redeemer of the universe lay.

You too, during the days of Christmas, visit the cribs, stopping to look at the Child lying in the hay. You look at His mother and you look at St. Joseph, the Redeemer’s guardian. As you look at the Holy Family, you think of your own family, the family in which you came into the world.

You think of your mother, who gave you birth, and of your father. Both of them provide for the family and for your upbringing, for it is the parents’ duty not only to have children but also to bring them up from the moment of their birth.

Dear children, as I write to you I am thinking of when many years ago I was a child like you. I too used to experience the peaceful feelings of Christmas, and when the star of Bethlehem shone, I would hurry to the crib together with the other boys and girls to relive what happened 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

We children expressed our joy mostly in song. How beautiful and moving are the Christmas carols that, in the tradition of every people, are sung around the crib! What deep thoughts they contain, and above all what joy and tenderness they express about the divine Child who came into the world that holy night!

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The days that follow the birth of Jesus are also feast days: so eight days afterward, according to the Old Testament tradition, the Child was given a name: He was called Jesus.

After 40 days, we commemorate His presentation in the Temple, like every other first-born son of Israel. On that occasion, an extraordinary meeting took place: Mary, when she arrived in the Temple with the Child, was met by the old man Simeon, who took the Baby Jesus in his arms and spoke these prophetic words:

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and for the glory to Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:29-32).

Then, speaking to His mother Mary, (Simeon) he added: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).

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So already in the very first days of Jesus’ life we heard the foretelling of the Passion, which will one day include His mother Mary too: on Good Friday she will stand silently by the cross of her Son.

Also, not much time will pass after His birth before the Baby Jesus finds Himself facing a grave danger: the cruel king Herod will order all the children under the age of 2 years to be killed, and for this reason Jesus will be forced to flee with His parents into Egypt.

You certainly know all about these events connected with the birth of Jesus. They are told to you by your parents and by priests, teachers and catechists, and each year you relive them spiritually at Christmas time together with the whole Church. So you know about these dramatic aspects of Jesus’ infancy.

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Dear friends! In what happened to the Child of Bethlehem you can recognize what happens to children throughout the world. It is true that a child represents the joy not only of its parents but also the joy of the Church and the whole of the society.

But it is also true that in our days, unfortunately, many children in different parts of the world are suffering and being threatened: they are hungry and poor, they are dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are abandoned by their parents and condemned to remain without a home, without the warmth of a family of their own, they suffer many forms of violence and arrogance from grown-ups.

How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grown-ups?

JESUS BRINGS THE TRUTH

The Child Whom we see in the manger at Christmas grew up as the years passed. When he was 12 years old, as you know, He went for the first time with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

There, in the crowds of pilgrims, He was separated from His parents and, with other boys and girls of His own age, he stopped to listen to the teachers in the Temple, for a sort of “catechism lesson”. The holidays were good opportunities for handing on the faith to children who were about the same age as Jesus.

But on this occasion it happened that this extraordinary Boy Who had come from Nazareth not only asked very intelligent questions but also started to give profound answers to those who were teaching Him. The questions and even more the answers astonished the Temple teachers.

It was the same amazement that later on would mark Jesus’ public preaching. The episode in the Temple of Jerusalem was simply the beginning and a kind of foreshadowing of what would happen some years later.

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Dear boys and girls who are the same age as the 12-year-old Jesus, are you not reminded now of the religion lessons in the parish and at school, lessons which you are invited to take part in?

So I would like to ask you some questions: What do you think of your religion lessons: Do you become involved like the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple? Do you regularly go to these lessons at school and in the parish? Do your parents help you to do so?

The 12-year-old Jesus became so interested in the religion lesson in the Temple of Jerusalem that, in a sense, He even forgot about His own parents. Mary and Joseph, having started off on the journey back to Nazareth with other pilgrims, soon realized that Jesus was not with them.

They searched hard for Him. They went back and only on the third day did they find Him in Jerusalem, in the Temple. “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously” (Lk. 2:48).

How strange is Jesus’ answer and how it makes us stop and think! “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Fathers house?” (Lk. 2:49). It was an answer difficult to accept.

The evangelist Luke simply adds that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). In fact, it was an answer that would be understood only later, when Jesus, as a grown-up, began to preach and say that for His heavenly Father He was ready to face any sufferings and even death on the cross.

From Jerusalem Jesus went back with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, where He was obedient to them (cf. Lk. 2:51). Regarding this period, before His public preaching began, the Gospel notes only that He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).

Dear children, in the Child Whom you look at in the crib you must try to see also the 12-year-old Boy in the Temple in Jerusalem, talking with the teachers. He is the same grown Man Who later, at 30 years old, will begin to preach the word of God, will choose the Twelve Apostles, will be followed by crowds thirsting for the truth.

At every step He will confirm His extraordinary teaching with signs of divine power: He will give sight to the blind, heal the sick, even raise the dead. And among the dead whom He will bring back to life there will be the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Naim, given back alive to his weeping mother.

It is really true: this Child, now just born, once He is grown up, as Teacher of divine truth, will show an extraordinary love for children. He will say to the Apostles: “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them,” and He will add: “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:14).

Another time, as the Apostles are arguing about who is the greatest, He will put a child in front of them and say: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).

On the occasion, He also spoke harsh words of warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).

How important children are in the eyes of Jesus! We could even say that the Gospel is full of the truth about children. The whole of the Gospel could actually be read as the “Gospel of children”.

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What does it mean that, “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”? Is not Jesus pointing to children as models even for grown-ups? In children there is something that must never be missing in people who want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

People who are destined to go to heaven are simple like children, and like children are full of trust, rich in goodness and pure. Only people of this sort can find in God a Father and, thanks to Jesus, can become in their own turn children of God.

Is not this the main message of Christmas? We read in St. John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14); and again: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).

Children of God! You, dear children, are sons and daughters of your parents. God wants us all to become His adopted children by grace. Here we have the real reason for Christmas joy, the joy I am writing to you about at the end of this Year of the Family.

Be happy in this “Gospel of divine sonship”. In this joy I hope that the coming Christmas holidays will bear abundant fruit in this Year of the Family.

JESUS GIVES HIMSELF

Dear friends, there is no doubt that an unforgettable meeting with Jesus is First Holy Communion, a day to be remembered as one of life’s most beautiful. The Eucharist, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, on the night before His passion, is a Sacrament of the new covenant, rather, the greatest of the Sacraments.

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In this Sacrament, the Lord becomes food for the soul under the appearances of bread and wine. Children receive this Sacrament solemnly a first time—in First Holy Communion—and are encouraged to receive it afterward as often as possible in order to remain in close friendship with Jesus.

To be able to receive Holy Communion, as you know, it is necessary to have received Baptism: this is the first of the Sacraments and the one most necessary for salvation, Baptism is a great event!

In the Church’s first centuries, when Baptism was received mostly by grown-ups, the ceremony ended with receiving the Eucharist, and was a solemn as First Holy Communion is today.

Later on, when Baptism began to be given mainly to newborn babies–and this is the case of many of you, dear children, so that in fact you do not remember the day of your Baptism—the more solemn celebration was transferred to the moment of First Holy Communion.

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Every boy and every girl belonging to a Catholic family knows all about this custom: First Holy Communion is a great family celebration. On that day, together with the one who is making his or her First Holy Communion, the parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, godparents, and sometimes also the instructors and teachers, generally receive the Eucharist.

The day of First Holy Communion is also a great day of celebration in the parish. I remember as though it were yesterday when, together with the other boys and girls of my own age, I received the Eucharist for the first time in the parish Church of my town.

This event is usually commemorated in a family photo, so that it will not be forgotten. Photos like these generally remain with a person all through his or her life.

As time goes by, people take out these pictures and experience once more the emotions of those moments; they return to the purity and joy experienced in that meeting with Jesus, the One Who out of love became the Redeemer of man.

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For how many children in the history of the church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength! How can we fail to be reminded, for example, of holy boys and girls who lived in the first centuries and are still known and venerated throughout the Church?

MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the States with family and friends, the first Christmas at home in a few years. There is little news today from the Vatican (more time to pack!) so my sole offering is a Christmas reflection called “One Solitary Life” – I know you will be moved beyond telling.

I have prepared a Christmas special for “Vatican Insider” this coming weekend. and be sure to also tune in to “At Home with Jim and Joy” when I bring some news and specials from Rome.

Before I forget, abundant and heartfelt thanks for the avalanche of beautiful messages and emails about my investiture as a Lady of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. More than anything, I wish I could have responded individually but you are in my heart and my prayers!

May your Christmas be beautiful and blessed! May you find new meaning in the birth of Our Lord and Savior and His eternal presence among us, and may the New Year enrich the gifts of Faith, Hope and Love and, especially this Jubilee Year, mercy! May God sit on your shoulder now and throughout the New Year!

I took the photo you see in “One Solitary Life” at a church in Beit Sahour, a small Palestinian town east of Bethlehem, at what is known as Shepherd’s Field – where an Angel appeared to the Shepherds to announce the birth of Christ. When I was on a pilgrimage here, we had Mass in what is known as the shepherds cave. The Franciscans acquired a shrine there in 1347. Here are two other photos from the Shepherds Field church.

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These pictures were taken in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The last two show an area beneath an altar: the star you see is placed above the spot where tradition says Baby Jesus was born and laid in the manger.

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MY GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

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“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”

 

POPE FRANCIS AND THE 12 VIRTUES OF CHRISTMAS – “TAKE CARE OF YOUR MARRIAGE AND YOUR CHILDREN!”

This past weekend was one of the most remarkable of my entire life as I became a Dama, a Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Friday at St. Mary Major Basilica, I joined seven women and 37 men who would be received into the Order the following day right before Mass at St. John Lateran. On Friday there was a prayer vigil and the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Liturgy of the Word, a reading by all of us, future Ladies and Knights, of promises to the Order and the blessings of our capes and decorations.

Saturday, at St. John Lateran, the actual rite of investiture took place during which we received our decorations, had our capes placed on our shoulders and the women had their veils placed on their head.

Every moment of each day was extraordinary. By the end of Mass Saturday I truly felt like I had just taken religious vows and, in a way, that is what happens when you are received into this Order. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of Malta are the only two chivalric Orders under the protection of the Holy See. Women in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre are called “Ladies,” whereas in Malta they are called Dames.

EWTN covered the entire ceremony Saturday and one of my colleagues took some photos afterwards. The Vatican’s photographer from the L’Osservatore Romano was the official photographer for each ceremony but those photos are not yet ready. When they are ready, I will post a few and give a more detailed explanation of both the ceremonies and what my mind and heart felt those days.

Here are a few photos from my CNA colleague:

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Today was an important day for the communications offices of the Holy See and a big day for the Number One communicator, Pope Francis!

The Vatican published some nominations over the weekend, two of which are especially important for English-speaking personnel of the Roman Curia: Bishop-elect Paul Tighe and Greg Burke. The third nomination was a promotion of an Italian within the CTV, The Vatican television Center:

Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, was named adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and elevated to the dignity of bishop. Gregory Burke, currently communications adviser at the Secretariat of State, was appointed deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, effective February 1, 2016. and Stefano D’Agostini, Italy, technical head of the Vatican Television (CTV), as director of the CTV. (Here’s a great story from L’Osservatore Romano about Greg: http://www.news.va/en/news/five-days-to-say-yes).

As for Pope Francis, he delivered a lengthy address this morning during his annual exchange of Christmas wishes with ranking officials of the Roman Curia and then, in the Paul VI Hall, welcomed employees of the Roman Curia and Vatican City, along with family members.

POPE FRANCIS’ AND THE 12 VIRTUES OF CHRISTMAS

Pope Francis greeted the ranking members of the Roman Curia in the Clementine Hall this morning before delivering his annual Christmas remarks and asked them to forgive him for sitting down to speak: “I am not feeling that well, I think I have a touch of the flu,” he said.

In reality, Francis gave no sign of feeling poorly, speaking with feeling and with gestures. And after his talk he went around the room to individually greet the assembled prelates.

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Following are some of the highlights of that Christmas talk:

The Pope began by saying, “I am pleased to offer heartfelt good wishes for a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your co-workers, to the Papal Representatives, and in particular to those who in the past year have completed their service and retired.

He noted that in his 2013 talk, “I wanted to stress two important and inseparable aspects of the work of the Curia: professionalism and service. Last year, as a preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation, we spoke of certain temptations or “maladies” – the “catalogue of curial diseases” – which could affect any Christian, curia, community, congregation, parish or ecclesial movement.”

Francis said, “Some of these diseases became evident in the course of the past year, causing no small pain to the entire body and harming many soul,” an allusion to the Vatileaks 2 scandal.

The Pope stated, vis-à-vis-the Curia, that, “the reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda.

“Nonetheless,” he went on, “diseases and even scandals cannot obscure the efficiency of the services rendered to the Pope and to the entire Church by the Roman Curia, with great effort, responsibility, commitment and dedication, and this is a real source of consolation.”

“It would be a grave injustice not to express heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism, offering to the Church and the Successor of Peter the assurance of their solidarity and obedience, as well as their constant prayers.”

Pope Francis highlighted the need “to return to the essentials, which means being ever more conscious of ourselves, of God and our neighbours, of the sensus Ecclesiae and the sensus fidei.  It is about this return to essentials that I wish to speak today, just a few days after the Church’s inauguration of the pilgrimage of the Holy Year of Mercy.”

The Pope said he wanted “to present a practical aid for fruitfully experiencing this season of grace.  It is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of needed virtues for those who serve in the Curia and for all those who would like to make their consecration or service to the Church more fruitful.” Francis said he hoped the following list of 12 virtues would “serve as our guide and beacon.” (I have abbreviated his remarks on each virtue)

1.        Missionary and pastoral spirit: missionary spirit is what makes the Curia evidently fertile and fruitful; it is proof of the effectiveness, efficiency and authenticity of our activity.

2.        Idoneity and sagacity: idoneity, or suitability, entails personal effort aimed at acquiring the necessary requisites for exercising as best we can our tasks and duties with intelligence and insight.  It does not countenance “recommendations” and payoffs.  Sagacity is the readiness to grasp and confront situations with shrewdness and creativity.”

3.        Spirituality and humanity: spirituality is the backbone of all service in the Church and in the Christian life.  It is what nourishes all our activity, sustaining and protecting it from human frailty and daily temptation.  Humanity is what embodies the truthfulness of our faith; those who renounce their humanity renounce everything.”

4.        Example and fidelity: Blessed Paul VI reminded the Curia of “its calling to set an example.” An example of avoiding scandals which harm souls and impair the credibility of our witness.  Fidelity to our consecration, to our vocation, always mindful of the words of Christ, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;”

5.        Rationality and gentleness: rationality helps avoid emotional excesses, while gentleness helps avoid an excess of bureaucracy, programmes and planning. These qualities are necessary for a balanced personality.”

6.        Innocuousness and determination: innocuousness makes us cautious in our judgments and capable of refraining from impulsive and hasty actions.  It is the ability to bring out the best in ourselves, in others and in all kinds of situations by acting carefully and attentively. … Determination is acting with a resolute will, clear vision, obedience to God and solely for the supreme law of the salus animarum.”

7.        Charity and truth: two inseparable virtues of the Christian life, “speaking the truth in charity and practising charity in truth.”

8.        Honesty and maturity: honesty is rectitude, consistency and absolute sincerity with regard both to ourselves and to God. … Maturity is the quest to achieve balance and harmony in our physical, mental and spiritual gifts.  It is the goal and outcome of a never-ending process of development which has nothing to do with age.”

9.        Respectfulness and humility: respectfulness is an endowment of those noble and tactful souls who always try to show genuine respect for others, for their own work, for their superiors and subordinates, for dossiers and papers, for confidentiality and privacy, who can listen carefully and speak politely. Humility is the virtue of the saints and those godly persons who become all the more important as they come to realize that they are nothing, and can do nothing, apart from God’s grace.

10.    Diligence and attentiveness: the more we trust in God and His providence, the more we grow in diligence and readiness to give of ourselves, in the knowledge that the more we give the more we receive. ,.. Attentiveness is concern for the little things, for doing our best and never yielding to our vices and failings.”

11.    Intrepidness and alertness: being intrepid means fearlessness in the face of troubles, like Daniel in the den of lions, or David before Goliath. … Alertness, on the other hand, is the ability to act freely and easily, without being attached to fleeting material things.”

12.    Trustworthiness and sobriety: trustworthy persons are those who honour their commitments with seriousness and responsibility when they are being observed, but above all when they are alone; … Sobriety is prudence, simplicity, straightforwardness, balance and temperance.  Sobriety is seeing the world through God’s eyes and from the side of the poor.”.

“And so,” concluded Pope Francis, “may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions.  May it be the basis of all our efforts.  May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back.  May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation and his majestic and mysterious working.”

“TAKE CARE OF YOUR MARRIAGE AND YOUR CHILDREN!”

(VIS) – This morning in the Paul VI Hall Pope Francis exchanged Christmas greetings with the employees of the Holy See and Vatican City State, and their families.

Francis thanked all present for their work and for their efforts in doing all things well, even when there is no recognition. He addressed in particular those who have carried out the same type of work for many years, acknowledging that routine is not always easy to accept because “we are not machines … At times we need an incentive, or to change a little. … Thank you! Let us continue to go ahead, in our various workplaces, collaborating with patience and endeavouring to help each other.”

The Holy Father also apologized for the scandals that have taken place in the Vatican. “But I would like my and your attitude, especially in these days, to be that of prayer: praying for those involved so that they may repent and return to a righteous path.”

“There is another thing I wish to say to you, possibly the most important: I encourage you to take care of your marriage and your children. Look after them, do not neglect them. Marriage is like a plant. It is not like a cupboard that you put in a room and perhaps dust every now and then. A plant is living and must be cared for every day. … Marriage is a living reality: the life of a couple must never be taken for granted, in any phase during the progress of a family. Let us remember that the most valuable gift for children … is their parents’ love. And I do not mean only the love of parents for their children, but also the love between parents themselves, that is, the conjugal bond. This is good for you and for your children,”

“Therefore, first and foremost cultivate the plant of marriage, as spouses, and at the same time take care of the relationship with your children; here too, focus on the human relationship rather than material things. Focus on mercy in your daily relations, between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters; and take care of grandparents. The Jubilee must be lived also in the domestic church, not only in major events! The Lord love those who practice mercy in ordinary situations. This is my wish for you: to experience the joy of mercy, starting with your family. Happy Christmas!”

 

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS…. – “JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON” – FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS….

Pope Francis tweeted the following today, December 26, feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr: Let us pray today for all those who are persecuted for their Christian faith.

Today is a big holiday here in Italy and also part of the holiday period given to Vatican employees. It has been a beautiful day here in Rome, with blue skies and brilliant sun shining down on the tens of thousands of pilgrims who have come to Rome for Christmas, most of whom, at some point of another, also visited the Vatican, either to attend the Christmas vigil Mass on the 24th or be in St. Peter’s Square Christmas Day for the twice-annual Urbi et Orbi message and blessing from the Pope and again today for the Angelus.

With so many people out of the city for the holidays, either visiting relatives and friends or spending time at a second home in the mountains or near the sea, Rome has been fairly quiet as far as traffic goes. Busses ran until 9 pm on Decembet 24 and only a few hours in the morning on Christmas Day and again for a few hours in late afternoon. The quiet and peace has been a real gift!

I attended the vigil Mass on December 24 with the Santa Susanna community – one of the very rare times in my life I have not gone on Christmas Day. It was a family tradition to attend Mass on Christmas morning and that is pretty much what I have done every year.

The first vigil Mass – truly a Midnight Mass – that I ever recall attending was in Zermatt, Switzerland, a two-hour drive south of Fribourg where I spent my junior year in college. We spent a week here on Christmas vacation – most of us learning how to ski! – and then a week in Vienna. As no cars were allowed in Zermatt, the only transportation was walking, skiing or by sled – and that is how we went to Mass! In a sled! Singing wonderful Christmas carols! A magical, unique, unforgettable moment.

The second Midnight Mass I attended was December 24-25, 1993 when I was a reader for the Eucharist presided over by John Paul II! I had wanted to be home for Christmas to mark the first anniversary of my Dad’s death but was unable to for work reasons. My Mom was devastated – she so wanted me home but we were together in a way neither of us could have expected. When I was asked to read (twice, as I also read an introductory piece in English about the meaning of Christmas) at the papal Christmas Mass, I called Mom immediately and told her we would be together, though separated by miles, thanks to television!

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Christmas was beautiful this year in so many ways – the remarkably special liturgy with the Santa Susanna community and then the wonderful dinner party last night with friends, including the mother of a priest friend who works at the Vatican. Marge is here for the Christmas holidays and it was a joy to have her for a turkey dinner. I spent most of the day in the kitchen, as demanded by a turkey dinner but it was all worth it when all the guests went back for seconds (a second serving seems to be a mandatory party of a turkey meal).

It had been fun to decorate my home and then share it with friends, as I hope to do in coming days – maybe even weeks. Many friends who work at the Vatican have taken 10 or 12 days off (some even longer) so we will celebrate the New Year as well when they get back.

I have a number of beautiful nativity scenes – 3 from Bethlehem (two were gifts when I spent Christmas there – this should be the 11th commandment – Christians must spend one Christmas in Bethlehem!), a Mexican one and a magnificent Lladro nativity scene. I set up one Bethlehem nativity scene and the Lladro nativity as well. Here are a few photos of those nativity scenes and a few of my house (for my family):

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The centerpiece on my table was given to me by Claudio and Palmerina, owners of La Vittoria restaurant, near my home. Here is a photo of the nativity scene they have every year in the restaurant (can you imagine a restaurant in the US. doing this?! Some person or group would protest – so much for freedom of expression!)

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Following is Pope Francis Christmas Day message and blessing and his words at the Angelus today, feast of St. Stephen.

“JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON”

Urbi et Orbi Message of Pope Francis Thursday 25 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies.  The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.

Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him.  And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child.  Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognized in Jesus the Messiah.  “My eyes have seen your salvation”, Simeon exclaimed, “the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:30).

Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!

Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.  May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.  May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.  May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.

May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where [even in these hours] more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed.  I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.

May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children.  May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week.  May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.  As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.

The Child Jesus.  My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born.  Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.  Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth.  May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery.  May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference.  May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.  Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.

With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today the liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen. Chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.

The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on mission. Among other things, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life.

To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will.

At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).

Today let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church. Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and Proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us, who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the Saints in paradise.

AFTER THE ANGELUS

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you in the joy of Christmas and I renew my best wishes for peace for all of you: peace in families, in parishes and religious communities, in movements, and in associations. I greet everyone named Stephen or Stephanie: Best wishes!

In these past few weeks I have received so many Christmas greetings from Rome, and elsewhere. Because it is not possible for me to respond to each one, I want to express today my heartfelt thanks for all of them, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you from the heart! May the Lord repay your generosity.

And don’t forget: Christian coherence — that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan. Not that! Today let us ask Stephen for the gift of Christian coherence… And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

Together with Pope Francis I am, in my prayers, thoughts and heart, with my brothers and sisters in Kurdistan, so many of whom I met and got to know on my two visits. We prayed together, shared meals, and had long conversations. I visited churches, convents, schools, kindergartens and homes – many memories, many friends, all of whom have been in my heart since the day I first set foot on Iraqi soil. Archbishops Bashar Warda of Erbil and Amel Nona of Mosul, two very good friends, are especially in my prayers tonight, the birth of Our Lord and Savior. God sit on your shoulders, my dear friends! May He bless you abundantly and preserve you in faith and hope! Merry Christmas!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis this evening telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.

Christmas - IRAQ

The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.

Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul.

Over the telephone line, the Pope told refugees that he is “close to them with all of his heart” and assured him he praying for them.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you”.

“Dear brothers – Pope Francis said – I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness”

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-refugees-in-kurdistan-you-are-like-jesus-t

Bishops, patriarchs, teachers, seminarians, nuns taking their final vows, kindergarten classes, Masses in churches throughout Kurdistan – today, now, where are these many friends with whom I shared so much?!

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And these friends – the nuns, but especially the little children – where are they? How are they? So many were from Mosul!